What is your credit card ‘end game’ strategy?

People who drift into this odd hobby of ours often apply for a couple of credit or charge cards almost at random, perhaps because they were on promotion or because they didn’t know any better. They don’t have a long term strategy at that time, not surprisingly.

I thought it was worth taking another look today at where I think you should look to end up in terms of your credit card plans.  If you have just become involved in miles and points, the question to ask is:

“What credit cards should I get now, and which credit cards should I end up with?”

It’s like a substantially less exciting version of dating! You may meet someone who is good for a short fling, but at the same time you also know that you will end up settling down with someone who better shares your long-term ambitions ….

Remember that most rewards cards are not suitable products if you do not clear your balance in full every month.  You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as click for details – the AA Low Rate Credit Card which has an APR of 6.5%.

Credit cards

What cards offer the most generous sign-up bonuses?

If you are just coming into the world of miles and points, you may be looking for a card to give you a ‘big hit’ in terms of points. This will help you build up your balances quickly and get a good redemption under your belt.

Based on the size and flexibility of the rewards, the most valuable American Express and MasterCard / Visa option would be:

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (20,000 Avios for signing up, no fee in year one, good earnings rate) + Hilton Honors Platinum Visa (free night at ANY hotel in the wider group for spending £750!)

These two cards will effectively give you £500-worth of sign-up bonuses between them, and will help you get the first redemption under your belt. And once you’ve done, say, a free weekend in Venice / Rome / Berlin with your other half (flights on Avios, hotel via the Hilton Venice, which is a lot smarter than you might imagine / Waldorf-Astoria Rome / Waldorf-Astoria Berlin / Waldorf-Astoria Amsterdam) you’ll be hooked.

(Here is my full review of Amex Gold, here is my full review of the Hilton Visa)

You are then in a position to think about where you want to go next with your credit card strategy …..

Which cards offer the largest mileage benefits for on-going spending?

For most people, your ‘end game’ with loyalty credit cards – assuming you are focussed on Avios – will probably be:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + Tesco Mastercard (0.3 Avios per £1)

The 2-4-1 voucher with the BA PP Amex, when you spend £10,000, is the most valuable perk in loyalty credit cards, as I showed mathematically here. And the Tesco Mastercard is the highest earning MasterCard / Visa for Avios unless you meet the very tough requirements for the HSBC Premier card – although 0.3 Avios per £1 is still not great.

(Here is my full review of the BA Premium Plus Amex, here is my full review of the Tesco MasterCard.)

You may want to switch out the Tesco card for the:

Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express & Mastercard (review)

There are two possible reasons to do this. If you spend £7,000 on the Lloyds card, there is an upgrade voucher which lets you redeem 2 x one-way Avios flights for the cost of the next cheapest cabin. First Class is excluded. The other benefit is that the Lloyds card comes with NO foreign exchange fees, saving you 3% on all your overseas spending.

Combined, these two benefits may justify the £24 annual fee. The headline earning rate on the Mastercard is 0.25 Avios per £1 which is lower than Tesco although Lloyds does not round down transactions in the same way as Tesco.

The Curve Card – with its 1% fee on foreign spend – is a potential option to pair with the Tesco card (3% FX fee) if you don’t want to pay the fee for the Lloyds card. You will even get paid £5 for trying out Curve!

You can still apply for other cards as good bonuses come along, especially once you’ve spent the £10,000 on your British Airways Premium Plus Amex to trigger your 2-4-1 Avios voucher. But these cards are both good choices for the long term.

“I don’t earn enough to spend £10,000 per year to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher on the BA Amex”

In that case, you are more likely to end up with:

British Airways American Express (free) + Tesco Mastercard (0.3 Avios per £1)

… as the two highest earning free Avios cards (1 per £1 on the BA card, 0.3 per £1 on the Tesco card).

(Here is my full review of the free British Airways American Express card.)

“I tend to travel on my own so I can’t use the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher”

If this describes you, take a look at this article on cards for solo travellers. You will probably find the upgrade vouchers earned via the Lloyds Avios Rewards cards more useful. You are probably looking at:

Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express (£24) + Tesco Mastercard (0.3 Avios per £1, so higher than the Lloyds card and with added flexibility to use the Clubcard points for non-Avios redemptions)

“I have over £10,000 of Visa / Mastercard spend per year which cannot be made on an American Express card”

If this is you, I would suggest:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

Whilst the IHG card has a £99 annual fee, there are some good benefits. As well as a high earning rate (2 IHG Rewards Club points per £1, worth 0.8p – 1p) you receive a free night voucher for any IHG property when you spend £10,000 in a card year. If used at a top InterContinental, the voucher could be worth £250+. You will also receive Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club simply for having the card.

My full review of the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard is here.

“The Tesco card is embarrassing when I open my wallet and puts off the girls / boys”

In this situation, because the earning rate is poor on almost all other Visa and MasterCard products, I would go with:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + whichever Visa or MasterCard is currently offering the most attractive sign-up bonus in your opinion

Cancelling an Amex Gold?

Here’s a good tip. If you are planning to cancel an American Express Preferred Rewards Gold to move on to a British Airways American Express, or simply to avoid the annual fee for Year 2 onwards, here is something to consider. If you get the free Amex Rewards Credit Card, you will not have to empty out your Membership Rewards points account. The ARCC card allows you to keep your Membership Rewards points active without paying a fee.

Conclusion

The point of this post is that, after a bit of churning, you will want to ‘settle down’ with cards which offer genuine long-term value and which can genuinely help you reach your Avios goals. One of the combos above may be your best bet.

Representative APR rates for the cards above can be found on our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

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Comments

  1. I tend to think the other way around: Amex Gold being your long-term card while the BA PP Amex being the short-term (sign-up bonus like) card. The reason is: spending between £15k-£20k (I think this means a lot of people) you will get higher number of points by using Gold card than BAPP, but with lounge access, flexibility to spend your points such as Virgin miles (Virgin has some good options such as Air China; also loyalty is expensive) and some other benefits such as hotel, but at much lower fees.

    The reason that BAPP is a good card for sign-up bonus is because I believe many people (at least in my case) need many years to collect enough points for redemption unless you want to frequently sign up and cancel. Say you can collect around 30k points a year by spending on card and some other routes (e.g. Tesco clubcard point conversion by shopping at Tesco), flying from LON-Shanghai requires 150k-180k avios (for short haul journeys one might better just use Easyjet etc). This means you needs 5-6 years (even you do this apply-and-cancel thing every year you still need about 3 years) to have enough points for a long-haul business class. Why paying higher fees during this period but with lower earning rate, less flexibility (you are stuck with Avios) and less benefit (as discussed above compared to the Gold card)? You might be better off by holding the Gold card for long term, and apply the BAPP card every 5-6 years (to get the 2-for-1 voucher).

  2. I’m really late to this party but looking for some advice please ! Started this hobby in Aug , had Amex gold each for me and husband .(mine is cancelled, his will be next week once we’ve used the lounge access, can reapply for mine again in March ) . I have a lloyds Mastercard/Amex which I will prob keep long term (will likely trigger the upgrade voucher soon so holding off a bit) . I also have the SPG Amex (will close this in Jan) referred my husbamd but for some reason he got refused – this is the first time he’s got refused for anything in 20 years . 2 questions – could the churning have impacted his credit score ? And what’s our next card to apply for given we’ve still got relatively low levels of points? I’m slightly nervous following this rejection! Thanks !!

    • Could be anything, my wife got refused 2 years ago for an SPG which made absolutely no sense given her City job. This year she has been approved twice. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

      • That’s what I thought Rob. My husband was thinking my new hobby was the cause ! Puts my mind at rest .

    • My wife and I each apply for a card on average every 2 months and we’ve never been rejected. Both 999 Experian scores and good incomes. Call up Amex and question the rejection.

      • I think we might do this even if just to put his mind at rest and to get my bonus SPG points! Thanks for replying!